When your association and chapters don’t have a true partnership, you each spend time focusing on things and fixing things you shouldn’t. Members are the ones who lose and eventually fade away.
In our last post, we identified ten warning signs of a chapter network in trouble. A dysfunctional chapter network is usually a symptom of a dysfunctional relationship. Instead of seeing and treating each other as partners, National and its chapters get stuck in a ‘parent-child’ relationship. Or, you see each other as rivals. The ‘us vs. them’ mentality takes hold.
Knowing it’s time to transform the chapter-National relationship
Seeing this dynamic, consultant Jamie Notter provides a diagnosis for chapter networks in trouble:
“Maybe the very separate cultures we have nurtured over the years at the national and local levels are now creating a negative experience for our stakeholders. Maybe in order to succeed today, we need to do things differently. Maybe we will have to change the way we share information with the chapters, make decisions about programming, or even share resources.”
Kevin W. Holland, senior vice president of business operations and membership at ACCA, said:
“It would be better for the local and state associations if they could focus on being a good local and state association and if the national association could focus on being a good national association, and we don’t handcuff contractors and say you have to join at all these different levels.”
Another association that decided to restructure their chapter model was the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). “Our data was telling us that the primary reason people left the organization or did not renew after their first year was the chapter experience,” said IAAP’s president and CEO Jay Donohue, CMP, CAE.
Since 2002, Peggy Hoffman and Peter Houstle at Mariner Management have been talking about the need for associations to take a hard look at their chapter model. “And now, the idea is really entering the final phase as we see more and more organizations looking to evolve their chapter model,” said Peggy.
What do they think associations should consider? In an ASAE Collaborate discussion, Peter suggested “a unified single corporate structure where chapter administrative functions are all managed centrally.” This model “eliminates the need for volunteers to take on association management tasks for which they are usually unqualified.” He added:
“This may have been viewed as an impossible task for an association a decade ago, but 21st century technologies have made this not only a feasible, but a far superior model for associations to develop and sustain a consistent, meaningful local presence.”
Restructuring the National-chapter relationship
Whatever your reasons for wanting to restructure your chapters, make sure you co-design the new model with your chapters. Include chapter representatives from the start so the outcome is a win-win for National, chapters, and your members. If discussions become difficult, bring the conversation back to your common goal: what’s best for delivering value to your members.
Evaluate the existing model.
Associations Now wrote: “To justify a change to the association’s fundamental structure, a board must have both a detailed understanding of its current state—strengths and weaknesses—and a clear vision for where it wants to go.”
- What products and services does National provide to members?
- What do chapters provide to members?
- Do you see any redundancies in value delivery?
- Which party is better positioned to deliver that value?
Then, review your responsibilities to each other.
- What services and support is National responsible for providing to the chapters?
- What responsibilities do chapters have in the relationship?
- Where is each party coming up short with existing responsibilities?
- Should those responsibilities shift?
- Where do chapters need support so they can better deliver value to members and contribute to the National/chapter partnership?
- Where does National need support so it can better deliver value to members and better assist the chapters?
Why are chapters having trouble delivering value to members? What’s preventing them from honoring their responsibilities to National? What’s the root problem?
This process requires digging deep and continually asking “Why” until you get to the less obvious issue underlying the problem. Only then can you start seeking real solutions.
For example, let’s say vacant chapter leadership positions have become a pervasive issue.
- Why? We can’t find members to step up and serve.
- Why can’t you find them? We don’t have enough candidates with board or committee experience.
- Why aren’t there more candidates? Because the same people serve multiple terms. Members have either served already or they’re not interested.
- Why aren’t they interested? They don’t have time.
- Why is time an issue? The job requires too many meetings, too much work, and too many responsibilities.
Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. The real problem is: leadership is a burden. What can you do to eliminate that problem? How do you restore time to leaders so they can focus on what’s important? How do you support chapters in building a leadership pipeline and repairing their leadership culture?
Envision and design a new model.
Your goal is to rethink and redefine the National/chapter relationship so each can leverage their strengths, maximize their limited resources, and better position themselves to take advantage of opportunities. Ultimately, the desired outcome is to deliver more value to members.
In this new relationship, each partner focuses on what they do best. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. You have to decide what a successful relationship looks like for your organizations. When a restructure is over, what do you want to achieve?
What does restructuring success look like for National? Perhaps you want to see National better positioned to provide administrative, technical, and consultative support to chapters in return for more accurate and reliable information about chapter members and activities.
- Chapter staff and volunteer leaders can focus on attracting and retaining members by providing valuable programming, instead of spending so much time on administrative tasks.
- Chapters gain a voice at National, perhaps on a chapter advisory board.
- Chapters have ready access to National staff expertise.
In turn, National benefits from membership growth, grassroots feedback and involvement, an increased customer base for non-competing National products and services, and a strong leadership (and staff) pipeline. In fact, some of the strongest Component Relations Professionals (CRPs) we’ve met at national associations have previously held chapter leadership roles.
The chapter model envisioned here and by Mariner Management is a more efficient model. But, more importantly, it is a more effective model because now chapter leaders can focus on what members value most—delivering educational and networking opportunities.
An inspiring vision of a shared future provides a catalyst for action and a common purpose. But what else do you need to consider as you go through the restructuring process? Stay tuned because that’s the topic of our next post.